What started as a conversation between friends – award-winning authors Gigi Amateau and Meg Medina – about raising strong daughters who become strong women has turned into their 7-year mission of love, Girls of Summer. The curated reading list is geared toward empowering girls to become lifelong readers and learners as well as helping them find their voice in the community and world through stories reflective of who they are.
“On the fly, we said ‘let’s make a reading list for girls questioning themselves and the world, and provide some kind of grounding to help them move through this transition,” says Amateau who has authored seven books that include historical and equine fiction, as well as stories about inter-generational relationships.
Her first book of historical fiction, Come August, Come Freedom, won the Library of Virginia’s People’s Choice Award for Fiction. It was selected by Bank Street College as a Best Children’s Book of the Year and chosen by the Virginia Library Association as a Jefferson Cup Honor book.
Medina’s interest in the project dates back to her childhood. Growing up, she didn’t find a lot of books that reflected her Latino community. When she finally found one in college it was a “revelation. It opened something up in me,” says Medina, a Cuban-American writer who writes picture books, middle grade, and young adult literature. “It was an affirmation that I existed. It was an awakening.”
She wants kids today to have that same type of awakening. “We are a really diverse country now and we need those stories to affirm children and families. Books help remove misconceptions and awkwardness that happens when we don’t have authentic real-life experiences across cultures and communities,” she says.
Medina won the 2014 Pura Belpré prize in fiction, the 2013 CYBILS award in fiction, and the 2012 Ezra Jack Keats New Writers Award. Her newest book, a middle grade novel titled Merci Suárez Changes Gears will be released in September. It is her seventh novel.
She and Amateau started Girls of Summer with eighteen books on the list to reflect the age of their daughters at the time. The list, which now hovers between eighteen and twenty-one pieces of literature, includes a mixture of picture, middle, and young adult books about the journey girls make to find their voice and become resilient. “We have the whole community of children’s literature,” Amateau says. “We have current books and books that have been around for a while.”
There is now a small team of women putting the reading list together. They begin reading books in the fall and winter, narrowing down their favorites. “We bring forward books we love and feel passionate about as readers, titles that resonate with us,” Amateau says. “It’s a pretty vetted list, both individually and as a group.”
Books on the list speak to a variety of ages, with everything from fiction to poetry. “It’s diverse in form and genre,” Amateau says. “We also have books for transgender girls and girls on the gender continuum.”
Held at the main branch of the Richmond Main Library, Girls of Summer has grown in scope every year. This year’s launch is Wednesday, June 20 at 7 p.m. “We now have 300 girls and moms,” says Medina. “That has injected a sense of energy and fun into the summer reading launch. I’m proud of what it has meant to the community it has created.”
The event includes visits from authors and question-and-answer periods, as well as 30-second descriptions of each book. This year’s special guest author is Selina Alko, author of The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage. “We do giveaways and door prizes. The atmosphere is like a rock concert but it’s about books,” Amateau says.
She and Medina want all girls to “see themselves and connect through different literature,” Amateau says. “We try to acknowledge that the world is a beautiful, diverse place and the books we read reflect that.”